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High Expectations: Raising the Bar for Children with Disabilities?

by Pam Wright

At the annual convention of the Council for Exceptional Children last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on special educators to take responsibility for the success of their students.

Duncan said that all children should leave school ready for college and/or career. “High expectations must be the norm, not the exception.”

What do you think? Please take our poll.

Special educators should have high expectations for children with disabilities.

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The article about Secretary Duncan’s speech is available on Disability Scoop: Education Secretary Looks To Teachers To Raise Bar For Students With Disabilities

Several people commented on the article. All but one disagreed with Duncan’s statements about the need to prepare children with disabilities for further education and employment. I agree with him.

Low expectations lead to poor outcomes  in special education. Schools need to prepare children with disabilities for further education, employment, and independent living. (Purpose of IDEA at 20 U.S.C. 1400(d))

The Power of High Expectations

Decades of research shows that children live up to their teachers’ expectations. Low expectations lead to low academic achievement and poor behavior. When teachers have high expectations, student achievement and behavior soar.

In a recent study, 86 percent of teachers agreed that setting high expectations for students has a major impact on student achievement. Yet only 36 percent of teachers agreed that all their students have the ability to succeed academically. (Source: MetLife Survey of the American Teacher)

IDEA Impeded by Low Expectations

IDEA is the federal law that governs special education for children with disabilities. In the Findings section of the law, Congress described obstacles to implementation of the law:

“implementation … has been impeded by low expectations, and an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities.” 20 U.S.C. 1400(c)(4)

Congress found that “over 30 years of research and experience” demonstrated that special education would be more effective by:

“… having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in regular classrooms, to the maximum extent possible … to meet the challenging expectations that have been established for all children; and be prepared to lead productive and independent lives to the maximum extent possible.” (20 U.S.C. 1400(c)(5); page 46, Wrightslaw: Special Education Law)

Do you think special education be more effective if teachers had higher expectations for children with disabilities? Should schools prepare children to lead productive and independent lives to the maximum extent possible?

How can we convey high expectations to our children when their teachers (and some parents) don’t believe that low expectations are a problem?

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23 Comments on "High Expectations: Raising the Bar for Children with Disabilities?"


I absolutely agree. Children with special needs should not be handicapped further by limiting their expectations. Perhaps the method of getting to a goal may be different – including the speed at which it’s attained – but goals should not be modified or “dumbed” down any.


I believe that children with disabilities should be held to the same standards of other children. Granted they may not meet those standards, but they deserve the chance to try. I hold my son to those standards and he has made great progress considering he has an ASD. If you do not hold them to high standards then they will do what you give them, and never reach a higher level of success. My son is put into a resource room with about 10 kids for his learning issues in some areas, and modified work, no homework etc. He can do the work, granted with extra help, and stress on my part from the redirecting several times. But its easier for the teachers to make it easier on theirselves to pull out, and modify, even though they say its in the best interest of the kids. Next school year I’m demanding him to be held to the same expectations.


After a resolution session the school wanted to have my son looked at by other specialists…O.T. and Psych (outside) and assistive technology. The O.T. recommended 60 mins 1 time a week for 6 months then review. The school now says they will not use that O.T. that he needs to go to summer school for 4 weeks to someone who has never evaluated him. They told me that the outside company would do the O.T. and they never did the assistive technology that I authorized in January. What is my next move? Oh yea they also never gave him the accommodations on star testing and resource never did what they said they would do. They are also 2 months behind on the payments to the private reading tutor. Please give me suggestions. I am losing my job because of all the transportation this is requiring and I cannot afford an attorney anymore.



My hat is off the the teachers like you who are on the front lines because you have a desire to help our kids. Our school district has some incredible teachers who would do anything to help our kids.

Unfortunately those in power at our District Office, seem to have lost their desire to act in the best interest of the child when they take parent advocacy personally.

Just know that my son in no way feels like a victim. He is in a private setting now and is absolutely thriving in every way a parent can dream of.

Whenever we have a bad experience in life, we choose to either get bitter or get better. My son has taken this as a learning experience.

The folks who acted in poor judgment in our district could realistically eventually work for my son some day.


I am a special education teacher (SLP), and this exclusion practice just irritates me.

Unless your child is a danger to himself or others, or for some reason can’t tolerate it, there is no justification for taking him out of social activities. Our job as special educators is make sure that our children have access to everything non-IEP kids do. Even if it weren’t the law, it’s the right thing to do.

Everyone benefits when students with IEPs are with their peers, as much as is possible.